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Three tips for successful process mapping

Process map

Process mapping is the absolute cornerstone of any business improvement initiative. Identifying process improvements without a visual representation of the process as it stands is almost impossible, and I haven’t found a better tool than a well created process map.

Even the exercise of bringing people together to create process maps can provide that spark, that penny dropping moment, that leads to genuine, tangible process improvements. So, if it’s such a vital tool, why do most process mapping exercises never seem to complete and consistently fail to deliver improvements?

Having spent a number of years developing processes and procedures across a number of very different business functions and sectors, I’ve seen a variety of approaches. However, despite all the differences, most fail for very similar reasons:

  • Participation
  • Level of detail
  • Preparation

Researching process mapping to find the perfect approach is only likely to confuse matters further. There’s a multitude of advice over the best approach, the right level of detail to include and the best software to use, but following our three simple tips for process mapping will help you avoid those common pitfalls.

1. Participation

Trying to create process maps without the people who live and breath the actual process is one of the most common mistakes made. Managers often think they know every step of the process, but the reality is often very different. The only people who can actually tell you how things are done are those that use the process on a daily / weekly basis. They will know the little tweaks that have been made along the way, the workarounds they’ve developed and the issues they still face today.

At the opposite end of the scale, trying to get everyone involved can at times be impractical and just as unproductive. In large groups, people can often become withdrawn for fear of saying something wrong, and when discussion does break out, too many voices can often slow the entire process down and prevent real progress.


Make sure everyone is aware of the process mapping exercise, has the opportunity to highlight any issues, and is given the opportunity to review the output, but focus on ensuring you have a mix of levels represented (e.g. operatives and supervisors) who know the process intimately rather than doing it in isolation or involving everyone and their dog.

2. Level of detail

One of the discussions that will inevitably start early in the process is exactly what level of detail the process map should include. At what point does a process become a procedure? Again, there will be a plethora of differing advice on which should be used, but in reality, it is entirely your decision. Too little detail, and the process map won’t be of any use beyond a high-level management view, and with too much, the diagram will quickly clutter up and generate confusion rather than clarity for operatives.

The first question to ask yourself is who is the process map for? Once you establish that, then let someone in that role help define the level of detail they need to be able to see to do their role effectively.

The second question to ask is how often is the task performed? If it’s a daily task, it’s likely the operative won’t need to refer back to the process for every single detail, whereas a task performed infrequently may need to be more prescriptive.

For instance:

  • If you are developing a factory process map that is used every day by experienced operatives, they may not need to see every single level of detail, as it will form part of their expected competence level and be part of their training
  • If there are lots of outputs and checks, these may be better consolidated into a checklist or form that the operative fills out on the completion of a task rather than all being individually detailed in the process
  • If several consecutive tasks are all undertaken by the same person, it may be sensible to combine them into one activity.

And finally, If your process map can’t be fitted onto a single A4 page, consider splitting it into several processes, or remove some detail and supplement it with a written procedure.

3. Preparation

Often the first thing people do is open up their process mapping software, be it Visio, yEd or even PowerPoint, and start to layout the process steps. While software packages like Visio are great for constructing process maps, they aren’t the right tool for establishing the map in the first place.

You need the ability to actually understand everything involved in the process, add and move things as discussions develop, step back and see the full process, and use a tool that encourages collaboration.

Despite all the technology available to us, I have yet to find a better tool than the good old post-it notes on a wall. There is no better collaborative and inclusive way of developing a process map than the tactile nature of a map spread across the with of a wall that provides the ability to move, change and add elements as you go.

Process mapping

So, start with a blank wall with enough paper coverage to let you map horizontally or vertically, select different coloured / shaped post-its for each type of element (inputs / outputs / activities / decisions etc.) and construct your process map with the following steps:

  1. Add post-its for each task / activity in the process in the order in which they occur, without adding any links or inter-relations
  2. Identify where the process can deviate along different paths, and add decision points
  3. Identify all the inputs and outputs required to complete the tasks, adding them into the process at the relevant points
  4. Arrange all the elements, adding in process flow lines, showing links between related tasks
  5. If the process involves multiple departments or business functions, identify responsibilities for each stage
  6. Identify where quality control check points are required (commonly referred to as gate reviews). These should require a formal sign off and approval prior to the process proceeding.

Now you’re ready to fire up the laptop!

Successful process mapping

A successful process mapping exercise will not only provide you with the foundation on which to develop process improvements, it should also provide you an opportunity to engage your staff and develop a sense of responsibility and shared ownership.

Our experienced consultants can provide a range of process mapping services for businesses of any size, including:

  • Process mapping workshops
  • Creating electronic versions of your process maps
  • Process improvement workshops
  • Value stream mapping.

For an informal chat on how we can help, or for a free on-site consultation call us today.

Call us now to speak to a member of our team:

0191 511 1513 or direct to mobile: 07931 33 65 62

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